Chinese wedding gift customs
December 15, 2005 5:38 AM   Subscribe

Chinese wedding gift customs: A close friend of mine is from mainland China, and she recently got married to a guy from England. I'd like to buy them a very nice wedding gift. Are there any Chinese customs that I should be aware of? Are certain gifts traditional? Should I stay away from certain colors?

Thanks in advance.
posted by gd779 to Human Relations (20 answers total)
iirc you should stay away from white. red is good/traditional.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:42 AM on December 15, 2005

Don't give them anything that comes in a set of four items. Sets of three, sets of five, fine. Set of eight? Very good. (4 is the bad luck number, 8 is good luck.)
posted by AccordionGuy at 5:47 AM on December 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Do not give them a clock. Some Chinese see this as a symbol of death.
posted by Raybun at 6:32 AM on December 15, 2005

Avoid white and black, go for red, the traditional wedding color. In some parts of China (not sure where she's from) fish are a traditional sign of plenty and fertility in a marriage, so something with a fish motif might work. The Chinese also give cash in little red envelopes.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:41 AM on December 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

" In some parts of China (not sure where she's from)..."

She's from Chengdu.
posted by gd779 at 7:16 AM on December 15, 2005

It's not a bad idea, or impolite to give cash. Saves you alot of time thinking of what to buy.

For Chinese, during joyous occasions, You can give money in a red packet as a gift.
posted by merv at 7:36 AM on December 15, 2005

I could be wrong, but I thought 4 (shi) was bad luck only in Japan, since they imported (ok, stole) the Chinese numbering system which had two numbers that said death in Japanese (4 - shi, and 7 - shichi).

I could be wrong, of course. And, like lots of Chinese, if it were bad luck, I bet it would only be bad luck for one of their languages (mandarin / cantonese / the-others-I-can't-remember)
posted by shepd at 8:21 AM on December 15, 2005

4 sounds like death in Chinese if you change the intonation just a touch. Some Chinese aren't superstitious about this kind of thing at all, but it may be best to err on the side of caution in this instance.

Interestingly enough, superstitions around the number 4 have been factored into the hot condo market--especially in big cities with an established Chinese community. Just as the 13th floor was skipped in the past because of triskaidekaphobia, new buildings skip the 4th, 14th, etc. floors to appeal to the Chinese market.
posted by phoenixc at 8:39 AM on December 15, 2005

My cube neighbor is from China and just got married. She was shocked that we all didn't know that giving knives as a wedding present was totally bad news. So while I can't give you any ideas on what to give - stay away from the nice set of knives.
posted by Wolfie at 9:09 AM on December 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

I was (non-Chinese) best man in a Chinese wedding. Cash was, by far, the most common gift (yes, in the traditional red envelope). In turn, when I got married, my friend gave me cash, in return. I know it seems odd to us westerners, but it really does appear to be the most common gift in Chinese cultures.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:46 AM on December 15, 2005

No picture frames since that's sort of associated with death and remembering dead people, and no green headwear since that's associated with, um, infidelity.
posted by casarkos at 9:54 AM on December 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Maybe a set of traditional Chinese seals (Dragon and Phoenix are usually used for weddings, I think) for the couple? It's a little cheesy (typical thing for tourists in Hong Kong and Taiwan to bring home as a trinket), but they might appreciate it. These guys sell custom-carved seals, though my experience with them was a little off-putting (they used the wrong style of script and shipped my set to the wrong address.) Maybe some hand-painted calligraphy?
posted by greatgefilte at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2005

With cash, you know that there is no way the married couple will hate what you got them. :)
posted by madman at 11:12 AM on December 15, 2005

seconding or thirding or whatevering the recommendation for cash in a little red envelope. every chinese wedding i've been to, that's what most people gave. everything others have said is right on, too - 4 is bad, 8 is good, and red is the traditional color. white is the color of death.

also, around chinese new year lots of people give each other and keep around boxes of mandarin oranges. this, i'm told, is because they are a color reminiscent of gold and are round and plump, which symbolizes luck or prosperity. something of similar shape/color would probably carry similar meaning.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 11:52 AM on December 15, 2005

I thought that the red envelope thing was primarily a Hong Kong tradition. Am I wrong?
posted by gd779 at 1:03 PM on December 15, 2005

And if I do give money, are there customs that I should be aware of with respect to the amount that I give? Is it possible to give too much or too little?
posted by gd779 at 1:49 PM on December 15, 2005

My family is from mainland China and I've seen red envelopes at pretty much every special occasion I've ever been to. I used to think it was lame to get cash instead of gifts, but it is much more useful than a toaster, I must say.
posted by calistasm at 1:55 PM on December 15, 2005

Again.. if you give money, the amount matters.

In the some replies to this post, some have mentioned that the number '4' or bad, and '8' is good.

Likewise, giving $44,$440 is bad, while $88,$880 is good...

Same rule applies to money. Of couse, don't go giving just $8 bucks to the couple...
posted by merv at 4:11 PM on December 15, 2005

Yep. While you can certainly give something else, cash in an "8" amount (can't think of a better way to phrase that) in a red envelope is a "can't miss" wedding present.
posted by edjusted at 12:28 AM on December 17, 2005

it just struck me that "guy from england" may not be of chinese/aisan descent (it's not clear in the question). if it's a cross-cultural marriage you might want to ask what kind of ceremony they are having, etc. if they're trying to balance two different sets of expectations perhaps they'd appreciate the chance to guide you into giving either "red envelope" or "wrapped present from gift list". if you see what i mean. or maybe i'm over-analyzing the situation.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:39 AM on December 18, 2005

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